It’s been a rough stretch of games for the Chicago Bulls. They are currently on a 4 game losing streak, losing to some of the worst and most mediocre teams in the league. In my last Sunday Update, I warned that none of these last few opponents should be taken lightly, and unfortunately for all of us fans, those words have proven true.
What the hell is happening to this team?
After the Round Table replaced a third of the roster at the trade deadline with, what looked like on paper to be, better players, the Bulls have backpedaled. They are scuffling on defense and finding very little offensive production from players not named Zach LaVine or Nikola Vucevic. The season is beginning to look like a train wreck.
I still believe the trades were solid moves by the front office. I think we’ll see just how important they are next season, after the Round Table gets a chance overhaul the other 2/3’s of the roster. Change NEEDS to happen. The Bulls still need a lead ball handler. They still need 2-way players on the wings. They need to trim down the number of front court players on the roster. These roster needs have led to a mantra that is being wailed by Bulls fans across the world: There is work to be done!
It’s important to remember, that even though the Round Table have been aggressive about this Bulls team making a playoff run, this is still Year One of their rebuild. As I’ve pointed out before, there are many ways of rebuilding a team and returning to NBA relevance (which reminds me, I might have had my George Bush “Mission Accomplished” moment a few posts ago when I declared the Bulls had returned to relevance. Grimace face emoji.), the Round Table seem to be focused on doing that through trades and free agency. With the roster needs of this franchise more glaring in the light of a potential playoff run, this summer is now more important than ever before.
Great. This is nothing new. We knew this summer’s transaction period would be important for the Bulls even before Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley were hired. We won’t know how they tackle those obstacles for another couple months. What can the Bulls do now to win ball games?
They have to get production from the bench.
That recent stretch of games where the Bulls won three in a row, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White were playing high level basketball. They were both aggressive on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Over the last four games, they’ve disappeared. It sucks that soooo much of the Bulls success still relies on getting productive minutes from two of the most unreliable players on the roster. But this is where we are at with this Bulls team, endlessly waiting for Markkanen, White, or Patrick Williams to make the jump to NBA star. This is also the down side of not being able to trade Markkanen or White at the trade deadline. We are stuck with their unreliability.
As bad as those two have been, the ancillary players of the Bulls starting lineup, Tomas Satoransky and Patrick Williams, have been equally abysmal. LaVine and Vucevic are two very good scorers, but they need their teammates to step up and contribute as well. 1) It takes pressure off both of them when they see others scoring, and 2) it opens up the offense and allows them to work more efficiently when the defense is forced to guard other players.
The biggest thing that has to happen for the Bulls to start winning again, they need to get better on defense. There have been waaaaay to many open looks for the opposing team, both at the 3 point arc and at the rim. The Bulls have regressed to being “soft” again. There has been some good individual play, notably from Daniel Theis and Troy Brown Jr, but it hasn’t been enough to make a winning difference yet.
Trading away Wendell Carter Jr and Otto Porter Jr had an adverse effect on the Bulls defense. I still believe that Wendell was the Bulls best/smartest defender, even though he seemed to have regressed a bit on that end of the court this season. Otto Porter is definitely a better defender than Lauri Markkanen. While the trade did bring back two strong defenders in Theis and Brown, the unit cohesion between players in the rotation is just not there yet. The Bulls are still trying to figure things out on the defensive end of the court, and it’s led to some very bad losses.
What we’ve seen from the Bulls since the trade deadline has been pretty dour and grim, and many fans have been jumping off the bandwagon. There has been a lot of questioning of Billy Donovan and his rotations, there has been a lot of buyers remorse when it comes to the trade, there has even been some questioning of the Round Table for giving up two 1st round draft picks for an aging star. It’s all justified, if a bit premature, in my eyes. This is still a season of evaluation. Even in losses there is valuable information for the Round Table to gather.
Can LaVine and Vucevic coexist?
Can Markkanen and White thrive in their new roles off the bench?
Can Patrick Williams bounce back from the Rookie Wall and finish the season strong?
Is there enough fight on this team to make a playoff run?
There are many other things to evaluate and learn about this team as they finish out this season. I still believe the Bulls have the talent to make the playoffs, not just the play-in tournament. I also see they are running out of time. They need to start stockpiling wins if it’s going to happen, and in order to do that, they need to stop the backpedaling and move forward together.
Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!